Thinking About Surface Book with Performance Base

Posted on January 18, 2017 by Paul Thurrott in Microsoft Surface with 26 Comments

Thinking About Surface Book with Performance Base

In the coming weeks, I will finally get to evaluate Microsoft’s new high-end Surface Book offering, called Surface Book with Performance Base. Given my extensive experience with previous Surface Book models, I have a few thoughts about this ahead of my review.

The theme here is “more”. As Panos Panay said repeatedly during the product’s introduction last October—and again in a corresponding blog post—Surface Book with Performance Base is all about “more.” As in “more rendering power, faster framerates, and additional battery life.” I will be evaluating the device with that in mind, and comparing it to the original Surface Book i7 with dGPU which first shipped a year earlier. (And which I like quite a bit, despite reliability issues that continue to this day.)

Is it suitable for gaming? While the original Surface Book i7 with dGPU is unsuitable for modern AAA games, this new version provides “twice the graphics processing power” of those models, courtesy of a new NVIDIA GeForce GTX 965M dGPU with 2 GB of RAM. More to the point, this is the first (and only) Surface device aimed specifically at gamers. We shall see.

Why is there no quad-core processor option? While the dGPU in the Performance Base models is a huge improvement over the original dGPU, the processor offerings have not changed. So Surface Book with Performance Base still offers only a dual-core Intel Core i7 processor, and it’s still a 6th generation version, which you will recall was the source of so many Surface issues in 2016. Competing devices like Apple’s new MacBook Pro offer faster quad-core processors, though they too are previous-generation versions.

I’m excited but realistic about the battery life. With the understanding that manufacturer battery life claims are always bogus, Microsoft’s stated rating for the Surface Book with Performance Base—up to 16 hours—is still of great interest. That’s a 25 percent improvement over the previous models, which came in at 12 hours of battery life. Supposedly: I never see much more than half that. But 8 or so hours of battery life would be fantastic.

Keyboard. To achieve the improved battery life, Microsoft did something radical in this age of ever-thinner devices: It added more batteries, which necessitated a thicker and heavier base. I’m OK with this, as the resulting raised and angled keyboard now better fills the teardrop-shaped space left by Surface Book’s weird hinge when the device is closed. But I’m curious if this impact Surface Book’s excellent typing experience.

Fan noise. Like all modern PCs, Surface devices are prone to fan noise at times both expected and not. But the design changes to the Performance Base models necessitated a change to the cooling system as well, with Microsoft adding a second fan. We should always be nervous about new hardware implementations like this, so I will be looking at whether this change makes for a louder device in normal usage.

What hasn’t changed. For the most part, Surface Book with Performance Base is unchanged from the Surface Book that first shipped in late 2015, with the same basic form factor, same screen, same web cams, same keyboard and touchpad, same expansion ports, same awkward headphone jack placement, and so on.

Pricing. Given the extravagant pricing of the new MacBook Pro, and what I perceive to be Microsoft’s pricing strategy for Surface, it is perhaps time for me to rethink this device’s pricing. A non-Performance Base Surface Book with a Core i7, 16 GB of RAM, 512 GB of storage, and a (lower-spec) dGPU costs $2700. The Performance Base version of that device—with better graphics and battery—costs just $2800, only a $100 premium. (The versions with 1 TB of SSD storage are likewise just $100 apart.) So Microsoft isn’t exactly gouging customers for the upgrade, though of course we’re very much in premium PC territory to begin with. Assuming nothing is worse about the new models, Performance Base seems like a no-brainer if you were going i7/dGPU anyway.

I’m excited to finally get my hands on this new Surface Book, and hopefully that happens soon enough for me to test in a very real-world way on my next (epic) trip. More on that soon.

 

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Comments (28)

28 responses to “Thinking About Surface Book with Performance Base”

  1. 2616

    I had my Surface Book replaced and they allowed me to move up to the performance base.  Here are my thoughts after 2 weeks of use and owning the i7 16GB 512 GB model originally since launch.  I have the same unit now just added performance base.  I work for Microsoft, so take what I say as you will.

     

    Weight:

    Can't tell a big difference in the weight.  I think it is a non issue and really day to day don't see the issue.

     

    Typing / Keyboard:

    Same experience the keyboard is a little recessed, but that seems to keep the keys from the screen and any residue transfer seems to not be an issue now.

     

    Battery Life:

    Battery is definitely longer than before.  I have started to leave the cord in the bag when working mobile moving through out the day.  I actually left the power cord in an conference room and didn't realize it until mid morning next day.  I didn't use it the whole time but it was mid-afternoon the following day before I found what room I left it in and I still had plenty of battery to make it.  I am not giving anything official here, but it does seem to be much improved.  I think it has to do with use and stuff.  I do see a massive difference from Suggested to the Darker setting.  That one change when I realized my charger was missing made it say I had 6 hours left to over 10.  Keep in mind this is the following morning in a meeting when I noticed that I made this change.

     

    GPU:

    I have installed Gears of War 4 on the device.  The reason the original was replaced was due to GPU engaging issues.  This said, I generally never had problems for my typical use case.  I can install steam and run a GPU score if there is interest, but Paul might be better at that.  I only use it to game when in a hotel and have time... which is almost never anymore.

  2. 6074

    what I would like with this type of device, is to have the future ability to swap out the base with updated processor, ram and graphics keeping the original screen/tablet part.

  3. 4194

    > Why is there no quad-core processor option?

    Because Intel doesn't have any ultrabook-class (15/28 Watt) quad core processors. All mobile quad cores have 45W TDP.

  4. 7631

    I disagree with Paul that the Surface Book has still reliability issues. That might have been the case in the first 10 months after the laptop was released, but certainly not anymore.

    The Surface Book is not aimed to gamers, but the performance base model can at least play games better than the original model.

    As far as pricing concerns, I do not agree that the Surface Book is very expensive. Yes, you can find other laptops for much better price, but the Surface Book has a built quality you only find in Apple products.

    Also something else to consider: People that come from a Mac would find it much easier to change to a Microsoft computer and not a Dell or HP.

  5. 7269

    Just going to wait for surface book 2. 

  6. 217

    A colleague walked into my office with one yesterday (1st gen), it's a brilliant looking machine. But I have a hard time considering the price tag. I know lots of machines are priced similarly, but that's why I went the custom rig route, and happy I did. For $1600 my rig can run circles around these things.

  7. 5349

    "this is the first (and only) Surface device aimed specifically at gamers"

    I thought MS was aiming at productivity. And soon creators.

  8. 4964

    There is a market for elegant, but grunty'ish graphics, machines for design presentation, coordination meeting etc in architecture & engineering where the model is used. The SB1 was a bit light but the PB makes much more viable and price is comparable to entry level mobile workstations (which don't have pen & touch)

  9. 5184

    I just can't see paying that much money for a personal computer of any make or model.  $1500-1800 is about my personal limit.  Maybe for business, but even then, I think you can find a more powerful and reliable machine for less money. 

    I hope everything one does with something this expensive is instant and reliability absolutely prefect. 

  10. 442

    Aiming this at gamers would not really need quad core for the vast majority of games.  Games still suffer pretty badly from being single threaded.  Some do better, but not many.

  11. 1243

    It can't be any heavier than the Surface Type Cover with Battery.

  12. 514

    Since there is presumably a new H/W wave coming with the next W10 feature update in April, I think it would behoove most to wait and see what, if any, improvements beyond the performance base are coming then.

  13. 2037

    My problem with the Surface Book is that it doesn't make a great laptop or a great tablet and for the cost, you can buy a great tablet and a great laptop instead. You may also save space and weight because the weird Surface Book hinge makes its thicker than it needs to be and the dual batteries makes it heavier than it needs to be. The device is also tippy because the tablet portion hangs off the back. Removing the tablet from the base is not dead simple and you can't just yank it off like you can a tablet from a Bluetooth keyboard. Making it more powerful does not solve these problems. 

  14. 180

    I'm happy with my Surface Book, but if you have no need for the tablet portion (I use it to handwrite for meetings and drawing network diagrams) it's too expensive to recommend.

    Given the position of the CPU, I doubt it's possible to put a more powerful one in and keep it cool. I wonder if it might be possible to put a second dual core CPU in the base in the future. Dual CPU systems are usually limited to Xeon server parts, so for Microsoft to do this I expect they'd have to work closely with Intel, but I suspect it's possible, if they want to.

  15. 5496

    They should sell the base by itself. Instead of having to buy a whole new PC.

  16. 5485

    In december I considered buying this machine. Being a owner of 2 Surface Pro's, 2 and 3, and familiar with the history of 4 and the Surface Book I decided not to and went another root entirely.

    I don't see the point of having a "Ferrari" or a "Porshe Coupé" that is breaking weekly or wait to be fixed more than a year and still ... that mostly voids the value of the damn thing for me after a month or two the use. The noise I guess one can live with it, yet there is a sense of almost "magic", "peace of mind" and quality when one works with a powerful machine that makes no noise, surprisingly even in situations that would make sense to do but when it does we know precisely why ... pedal to the metal.

    Curious about your findings,  but at that price I expect nothing but pure balanced perfection. I'm not into financial charity for companies or people that need none to innovate.

    PS: I'm not much of a gamer (play on XBOX One from time to time). So the value is not in doing that at all for me, even at this price.

    EDIT: In your comparison with the new MacBook Pro 15" in terms of price and value for money, please do not disregard the fact Surface Book on review its a dual core, not a quad core like the new Macs. This might not seam important, but in practice I run Windows 10 faster inside a Virtual Machine on top of OS X (no boot camp) than the Surface Pro 4 Core i7 ... and with no noise most of the time go figure). I trade touch and pen input anytime for that, not only for do more, but also for the sake of a better experience. This situation might change in the future, but for now it is what it is.

  17. 5234

    No self-respecting gamer is going to buy one of these.

    • 442

      In reply to Waethorn:

      You assume all gamers are even slightly aware of hardware.  Most unfortunately are not.  Some buy machines far less powerful that this, and still think they have great machines.  That said, many folks buy this for 50% work and 50% gaming (or some mix thereof.)  In that case, they probably are making a very smart move.  Think outside the box Waethorn.

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